The draft board pages include every player who was left unprotected in the 1998 Expansion Draft. The overwhelming majority of players who do not carry over are either old, unproductive, injured, primarily used for fighting, marginal players, minor league veterans, or unsigned European prospects. The majority of pending UFAs (Group III, Group V, and Group VI) will not carry over. Exceptions to these rules are provided if the incumbent team left almost nothing of value available to choose from, in which case everyone gets at least a closer look.
As we are capped by league restrictions to selecting no more than six pending free agents, we must be judicious with our choices.
The Avalance finished first in the Pacific Division, then were stunned in seven games in the first round by a sub-.500 Edmonton Oilers team. Colorado had a 3-1 series lead, then scored just one goal in the final three games.
Goalies: Craig Billington(Gr.III – UFA), Petr Franek
Defensemen: Alexei Gusarov, Uwe Krupp(Gr.III – UFA), Pascal Trepanier(Gr.II – RFA)
Forwards: Tom Fitzgerald(Gr.V – UFA), Milan Hejduk(UE), Mikael Johansson(UE), Jari Kurri(Gr.III – UFA), Martin Lamarche, Francois Leroux(Gr.II – RFA), Christian Matte(Gr.II – RFA), Jeff Odgers, Warren Rychel
Out of fourteen unprotected players, we’re looking at defenseman Uwe Krupp and forwards Tom Fitzgerald and Christian Matte. You see the name “Milan Hejduk” among the unprotected forwards, and yes, that is the Milan Hejduk who’s available to be picked as an unsigned European prospect and who we’re not looking at more closely. I’ll go into the reasons why later. It’s a perfect example of hindsight being 20/20.
D Uwe Krupp – 33-year-old defenseman, originally an 11th-round pick of Buffalo (1983)
The case for taking Krupp – The league’s top UFA defenseman this year, we stand no chance at all of actually being able to sign Krupp. The term and likely salary would crush our budget right off the bat, and that’s if he even considered signing here.
No, this is simply about collecting a high compensatory draft pick as soon as he signs somewhere. We’re likely to get a 3rd-rounder, and possibly a mid-2nd, in next year’s draft simply by putting his name on our official “drafted” list.
The case against taking Krupp – He’s 33, on the downswing of his career, and may be simply looking at a shorter-term deal to win another Stanley Cup. He missed 22 games and the entire playoffs in 1996-97, and that he didn’t come back as strong last year as he had may be a cause for concern in the free agent market.
Of course, he’s a pending UFA and counts against our limit.
F Tom Fitzgerald – 30-year-old forward, originally a 1st-round pick of the New York Islanders (1987)
The case for taking Fitzgerald – A fast defensive forward who brings some offensive skill to the table, Fitzgerald would be joining his second expansion team if we take him. He was a big part of the first five years of the Florida Panthers, and had a terrific playoffs in their run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. He’d go onto our first PK unit, and may be able to slot onto the second line at even strength. He can score, but hasn’t been given a chance to actually show it because he’s been on the third line for so long.
The case against taking Fitzgerald – It’s a matter of simple asset management: Fitzgerald is a Group V free agent and may be lost for nothing with too little coming back as a compensatory pick, and whatever we get out of him even if he signs is likely to be less valuable than the possible 2nd- or 3rd-rounder we’d get from taking and losing Uwe Krupp.
Fitzgerald would also count against our free agent limit.
F Christian Matte – 23-year-old forward, originally a 6th-round pick of Quebec (1993)
The case for taking Matte – Twice a 50-goal, 100-point scorer in the QMJHL, Matte had a breakthrough in the AHL last year with a 33-goal, 73-point season. He’s 23 and can’t crack the lineup of the contending Avalanche, but we can certainly give him a chance to do so here.
The case against taking Matte – He’s a pending Group II free agent and would count against our limit, and he scored not a point in a callup last year to the NHL. We’re looking at someone who’s barely a point-a-game player in the AHL over an actual NHL player (Fitzgerald) or a high draft pick (Krupp)? I think not.